OVERVIEW This was our seventh cruise on Costa Cruise Lines and our third on the Atlantica, its flagship. It is said that the third time is a "charm" and it's true! The effusive Hotel Director Attilio Sissa has kept his staff on its toes and the Atlantica ship-shape. She is a jewel to be appreciated in all her glory of cinematic memorabilia (Deck names and ship decor revolve around Fellini films and actors). We have written two highly detailed reviews on this ship's many wonders and they are still posted on the internet, so we will refer readers to those reviews for the ship's layout and decorations. Instead, now we will focus on what the Costa Atlantica does best: "CRUISING ITALIAN STYLE." The ambiance and the Italian cuisine are where Costa excels and what gives a Costa cruise its identity. We did not have the feeling of ". . .been there, done that . . ." when we returned to this ship. On the contrary, we felt welcomed by the staff we befriended previously on other Costa cruises, who remembered our names and greeted us affectionately. It was like the return of the "prodigal son," especially for Vincent who enjoyed speaking Italian and, at times, his native Neapolitan dialect. The atmosphere on board became more festive throughout the cruise. For us a Costa cruise is the next best thing to actually going to Italy. It is the music, the continental manners of the crew, the extraordinary efforts of Cruise Director Ray Rouse, the factotum of the ship (Figaro qua`, Figaro la`), and finally it is the Italian cuisine of Executive Chef Purificacion Villardo and our old friend Chef Antonio De Luca, which all combine to give passengers that special taste of "la dolce vita."
EMBARKATION Tickets may read 10:30 am --- don't believe it. Normally embarkation begins at 1:00 pm. This Sunday the ship was cleared by Immigration Agents unusually late, just before noon. Only three inspectors were on board to handle 2,400 passengers, over 400 of whom were non-US citizens. The following Sunday clearance was quite different: swift and early, by 8:30 am we were on the pier and ready for our ride home. What a difference a week makes. For embarkation we received assistance to a waiting area for wheelchair and handicapped passengers along with the three relatives in our group (Haydee from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Mary and Peggy from Tucson, Arizona). We were on board 1:30pm and of course went straight to the Welcome Aboard Buffet, a culinary feast for the eyes and the stomach.
PUBLIC AREAS This floating tribute to Federico Fellini's avant garde films is both interesting and educative. The many reproductions of Botticelli, Raphael, Titian etc. works are evocative of Italian museums, for they are exquisite copies wonderfully framed. The classic lines of this ship are pure Costa --- she is more like a huge yacht and her appointments are luxurious: marble and fine wood are everywhere. The beautiful three room Caffe` Florian is so highly detailed and presents such a unique experience that passengers truly feel as if sitting in a Venetian cafe overlooking St. Mark's Square (We know, since we've been there and even the coffee smells the same!). Please refer to our Costa Atlantica 2000 and 2002 reviews for more ship descriptions.
FOOD & SERVICE Food and service is where Costa excels: Chef Villardo can be proud of the many offerings on his menus. When it reads "Prosciutto," diners can be sure it will be the famous Italian Prosciutto di Parma --- the best cured ham in the world. Recently Costa has dedicated more money per passenger for food and it shows. There are selections of cheese available daily which include the delicious Gorgonzola (Blue of Italy) Ricotta (creamy imported) and Mozzarella di Bufala, Grana Padano and of course Parmiggiano Reggiano (inimitable).
The menus are printed in Italian with English, German or Spanish translations directly underneath. Of course, many Americans enjoy seeing the Italian while being able to decipher it immediately. We suggest that these menus along with the daily Italian lessons on board could be an introduction to traveling in Italy. We dined with other Americans who said that at first they were ordering as if in an American restaurant, until they realized that they were missing a fantastic opportunity to try real Italian food. As the old adage states: "When in Rome do as the Romans do. . . ." and each night can be a great dining sensation:
Night I, Bon Voyage Dinner: Try the Antipasto Atlantica, roasted eggplant, zucchini and peppers with Prosciutto di Parma. For the Main Course have the Costa ta di Manzo al Forno (a tender and succulent Prime Rib of Beef).
Night II, Gala Dinner: Try the Escargot Bourguignonne and Aragosta alla griglia (Broiled Lobster).
Night III, American Dinner: Shrimp cocktail, mixed baby green salad, Costine di Maiale (Baby back pork spareribs), and what could be more American than Spaghetti & Meatballs.
Night IV, Italian Dinner: Cioppino (Italian Seafood stew), Trofie al Pesto (Genovese dumplings with pesto sauce) and Osso Buco (Braised Veal Shank with polenta).
Night V, Caribbean Dinner: Tortino di granchio (Caribbean Crab Cakes), Oxtail Bouillon, Linguine con gamberetti (pasta with shrimp), Sirloin steak with green peppercorns.
Night VI, Farewell Gala: Oysters Rockfeller, Fagottini ai quattro formaggi (pasta pouches stuffed with beef, ricotta & spinach in a four cheese sauce), and Filetto di manzo ai funghi porcini (Grilled beef tenderloin with porcini mushrooms).
Night VII, Bacchanal Dinner: This night is topped off with a procession of Roman senators, soldiers and lovely ladies allcavorting to Verdi's "Triumphal March" from Aida. HAIL CAESAR! Don't fail to order Prosciutto and Melone, Calarmari Fritti, Minestrone, Penne Putanesca, and Costa ta di Manzo. Translate this alone --- after all there's been seven days of Italian lessons by now!
This is only the tip of the iceberg and some of our favorites. Normally, we never order the same items on the menu, since we like to sample everything. The one thing we would prefer is the availability of half portions, because we dislike wasting food and the food portions are abundant.
The Menu is always extensive and varied. Every night, in addition to the 4 or 5 main courses, there are 3 or 4 alternative options, including fish, meat and pasta dishes, such as baked or grilled fish fillet, grilled meat and sausage, Lasagna or stuffed Cannelloni. The luncheon menus are equally varied and delicious. We suggest trying the risotto (rice) whenever it is on the menu, especially with mushrooms or asparagus. Magnificent!
The dessert menus have three items which are available everyday -- Tiramisu, Pastiera Napolitana and Zabaione: Don't translate, just order and savor! However, as a suggestion never miss a profiterole or a souffle. We always marvel at those people who just order ice cream every evening, when so many exotics are available. The Italian pastries rely more on flavor than sweetness and this is refreshing.
We found the food in the main dining room equally as good as that in the Ristorante Club Atlantica, the upscale restaurant on Deck 10 (there is a cover charge of $20 per person, except it is free for those occupying the suites). The menu for this restaurant was created by Gualtiero Marchesi, a renown Italian chef. The atmosphere in the Club Atlantica is more intimate than the main dining room, the service is impeccable and the Versace dinner ware is exquisite. However, we felt that it is definitely time for a change in menu, since it has been the same for the past three years. Moreover, we had a lovely table in the Tiziano dining room, where the food, the service and the company were the best ingredients for wonderful dining experiences.
We enjoyed Chef De Luca's cooking demonstrations in the Piazza Madama Butterfly and his beautiful daughter and Assistant Carla (Brava!). After each demonstration we savored the dishes which were offered that evening in the dining room.
Food Service on the Atlantica is under the direction of the handsome Maitre d' Hotel Umberto Cardone and his Asst. Tobia Vallo (whom we have met on many Costa cruises). The constant vigilance of these two, together with the other Asst. Maitre D's Dante and Nicola, are the reason that the wait staff is so accomplished. Our waiter Ronnie Ablog was swift and mindful of our likes and his assistant Sonny Ribao was helpful, but never hovering. Remember that with only 162 Kitchen Staff, Chef Villardo served 2,200 passengers and 900 crew over 9,000 meals per day, plus snacks, formal teas at 4:00 pm, Midnight Buffets, Captain's Cocktails etc., etc., etc. It is mind boggling. Especially since every soup is hot, every salad is crisp and every entree is garnished with fresh herbs..... Complimenti!!!
Service is tip top under Hotel Director Attilio Sissa; he is swift to action, effective and cordial; his sole aim is to please the passengers. He definitely achieves that goal. Our Butler Juan Pablo Aguilera was very helpful; he has a way of providing service before being asked. On the first day Vincent ordered a pitcher of orange juice with which to take his medicine, and everyday after that, he placed a fresh picture of juice in our refrigerator without our prompting. We had to debark early on Friday at George Town, Grand Cayman to meet a private tour (more later on the fantastic SEAMOBILE) and Pablo escorted us to the gangway by the VIP route (we were told that he escorted Robert Redford and a few other famous people the same way). When it comes to treating everyone like a VIP Costa and its staff know how to do it.
CABIN Suite #6154 is spacious and well appointed. When entering on the left, there is an ante room with armoire and lighted dressing table and past that is the pure Italian bathroom, double sink, all granite, tile and marble with a Jacuzzi tub. Excellent thought was given to comfort in this bathroom: towel racks and handy hooks are in the proper places. There is a granite bar and entertainment center: TV-VCR; a personal safe, a dresser and another mirrored armoire. The queen size bed is flanked by night stands with Murano glass reading lamps.
When entering on the right, there is a mirrored wall bordered by wooden pillars with ebony capitals and copper trim. The granite topped desk has another beautiful Murano lamp and below is the refrigerator. Full American breakfast was served each morning on the large granite coffee table. There is a peach leather hide-a-bed sofa with matching draperies and bedspread. The far wall is all glass with a door to the spacious balcony w/ two chairs, table and chaise.
On the walls are two dreamy paintings by Andreescu: One is a sleeping woman under a starry night with a castle in the background and a cat with yellow eyes in the foreground. The other is of a girl with golden hair and stars with a "Mezzaluna" moon and a bouquet of flowers and masks in the foreground. Unique! Our cabin attendant Roland was superb, everything was in order, but we hardly ever saw him.
ENTERTAINMENT The daily program "TODAY" lists many activities, from organized exercise classes to lessons in tennis, from dancing and language lessons to bingo and card tournaments, and trivia quizzes (the formidable Finellis won two). There are also lifestyle lectures: astrology, self exploration, etc..., and afternoon movies in the Caruso Theater and several excellent lead performers on board. A melodic group, "Les Aristocrates," with a spectacular lady singer Daniela and two other male singers, gave several performances in the Corallo Lounge and in Piazza Madama Butterfly. Their repertoire included famous Italian and International songs. Concert pianist Pierangelo Micciche` and tenor Luis Cartin, an old acquaintance of ours, performed beautiful classical songs and opera arias at the Caffe` Florian. The latest show "Made in Italy" featured Luis Cartin and the new excellent soprano Julie Ann McLaughlin with whom Vincent was very taken. We particularly enjoyed the solo performance of Van Pressley Jr. (formerly of "The Platters") who took us down "memory lane" with the most popular songs of the fifties and sixties. He got a standing ovation for songs like "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "The Great Pretender" and "My way." We had enjoyed his singing during our April 2002 cruise on the Atlantica, so we were thrilled that he was also performing during this cruise.
Party Italian Style includes dancing lessons in the "Tarantella" and the "Quadriglia." by far the most interactive program for the audience was the "Roman Bacchanal" a guest talent show. The audience gets a chance to decide contestants' fate by either "thumbs down," death by lions, or "thumbs up" for freedom. Be prepared for Italian congeniality everywhere. It's infectious.
PORTS OF CALL Key West, FLorida Monday Arrival: 8:00am Departure: 5:00pm For first timers take the Conch Train a one hour tour ($19) which will give a quick overview, so that the rest of the day can be well spent.
Cozumel, Mexico Tuesday Arrival: 8:00am Departure: 7:00pm We think the San Gervasio Ruins and the Folklorico Show would be the best excursion for the money ($55) three and one half hours and there is still half a day for some of the best snorkeling in the world. Shopping is good here and just a $5.00 cab ride from the pier.
Wednesday is a sea day.
Ochos Rios, Jamaica Thursday Arrival: 8:00am Departure: 5:30pm The Ochos Rios Highlights, Coyaba Gardens and Dunn's Falls, four hours ($44) gives the flavor of Jamaica, plus the exercise of climbing the falls and still getting in some shopping time.
George Town, Grand Cayman Friday Arrival: 8:00am Departure: 5:00pm Here it is possible to go off the regular tours to the SEAMOBILE, the submarine experience of a life time (described in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC). There are only three of these subs in the world: one is in Grand Cayman, one on the US west coast and the last is used in research in Turkey. We contacted the Manager Simon Boxall by E-Mail: email@example.com and by phone (345-916-DIVE) and he made arrangements for us to be picked up between the North and South terminals by Chris in a speed boat, taken to the platform near Seven Mile Beach. Sunny helped us on the platform and Dave, the pilot, explained the process of submersion and safety procedures. It was all very simple; we were ready to explore the coral reef. The two man sub has a clear glass dome with surround view. No breathing apparatus is necessary, since it holds enough oxygen for approximately 2 hours and the dive lasts only about 30 to 45 minutes. Dave, in scuba outfit, pilots the sub from outside and behind, so the the sea view is unobstructed. Completely calm and free of masks or any other encumbrances, we floated through schools of tropical fish and saw sea turtles, conchs, sea fans and coral formations within feet. For that Jacques Cousteau feeling this is truly phenomenal. The visibility is wonderful. Mary is claustrophobic, but had no problem since the bubble is large enough and breathing is regular not through tubes or tanks. TWO THUMBS UP!!
SUGGESTIONS 1. Our Seamobile experience was unique. We have previously done the Submarine Expedition and the Submarine Adventure in Cozumel and the Caymans, respectively. However, this personalized dive to the coral reef is something very different and it merits inclusion in shore excursion offerings of the Costa Cruise Line.
2. So much food is wasted on cruises; thus, we feel that half-portions should be listed on the menu for those who want to savor the flavor, rather than gorge themselves.
3. There has been improvement in the pizza --- the toppings were excellent, but the crust did not meet our expectation. We feel that the crust could be more flavorful if they use the freshly made bread dough, instead, since their bread is excellent. Very simple!
It is always a great pleasure to visit our friends on Costa ships. Arrivederci! Until we meet again, maybe on the new Costa Mediterranea or Costa Fortuna, later this year.